Ten football players and a few of their friends squeezed under a small canopy to hide from the hot sun Saturday morning.
They were savoring the limited shade at Marana Middle School and taking a break between football games during the second annual Duel in the Desert football jamboree.
For five hours under the blistering sun, more than 600 middle-schoolers got their chance to play football. Doubling the number of squads from last year, 16 teams played games in the seventh-grade, eighth-grade and lightweight divisions.
In between their three games, the teams scurried for shade and lapped up water to try to stay cool as the temperature rose to triple digits. The players enjoyed seeing their friends on other teams and getting the opportunity to begin the football season.
“It was fun just hanging out with all our friends,” said Bradley Miller, who plays on the offensive line for Marana’s eighth-grade team. “Football is awesome. We were pouring water down our backs, drinking water, taking off our helmets (to stay cool).”
There was no overall winner, but Cross Middle School earned the sportsmanship award determined by the referees. All players on each team were required to participate during the 45-minute scrimmages with a running clock.
Each team was given 10 offensive plays, and the games began at the 35-yard line with no kickoffs and no first downs. Teams played on the main and auxiliary fields at Marana, with two teams playing at one end of each field at the same time. Under umbrellas on the sidelines, their families cheered touchdowns.
“It went pretty well. We did a lot of teamwork,” said Dionte Flores, who plays running back for Flowing Wells’ eighth-grade team. “Our team is altogether, like a big family.”
Running back Stephen Villa, an eighth-grader on Tortolita’s lightweight team, rushed for 50 yards on two carries in a game. His teammate, quarterback Zach Everson, fumbled a snap but picked up the ball and ran for a touchdown in a game against Flowing Wells.
“It was redeeming,” Everson said. “It was fun just to be able to play.”
Tortolita running back Collin Ruffell, a seventh-grader, scored a touchdown on a 35-yard run against Flowing Wells.
“It’s fun playing, hitting, being on the field,” he said.
The Tortolita lightweight team stayed cool by remaining in the shade behind the big bleachers and drinking from two huge water jugs.
Ten Amphitheater players stretched out on the grass under a blue canopy, eating cheeseburgers and resting before their final game.
“It’s nice seeing friends we haven’t seen in a long time,” eighth-grader Vicente Chiquete said.
“We’re coming together as a team,” eighth-grader Brandon Russell added.
Cross’ eighth-grade team hung out under a small tree before its final game. The players stretched their hamstrings in preparation.
“We’re getting to play football for the first time this year,” said Tristan Peterson, a fullback and tight end.
Including the players, parents and other spectators, more than 1,000 people attended the jamboree that ran from 7 a.m. until past noon.
“There was a huge amount of people out here,” Marana Middle School assistant principal and co-athletic director Josh Bayne said. “It was cool seeing the Northwest League in one spot.
“It gets every player quality stats. Once the season starts, not every player might play. Here, they do. They play in three games in one day.”
Other schools that participated were Coronado, Wilson and La Cima.